Drexel doctoral student creates smart textiles in Philadelphia

A doctoral student at Drexel University, Philadelphia, is combining fashion with engineering into a textile that can store electricity. As she prepared to embark for the prestigious Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, where she will meet with the greatest minds in chemistry, Kristy Jost shared her journey from sewing machines to supercapacitors with the Drexel News Blog.

As a sophomore fashion design major, Kristy Jost wanted to make a loudspeaker gown that set the wearer apart from the crowd. ‘It was an assignment to design a garment that integrated technology into the design,’ Jost said. ‘Most of the class came up with pockets that could hold a cell phone. I turned in a dress design with speakers and lights and music. My professor said: Wow! You really went for it didn’t you?!’ What began as a pie-in-the-sky idea by Jost as a sophomore fashion design student became a fork in her academic career path when she graduated in 2011 and decided to stay at Drexel to pursue a graduate degree in materials science and engineering. Now, as part of the research teams in the A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute and the Haute Tech Lab, she coats knitted carbon fiber with carbon materials to produce fabric supercapacitors to the point where it has sufficient energy to power a cell phone. Her latest work focuses on combining all the elements of a supercapacitor into a single thread. This thread can be knitted into a smart fabric capacitor that is part of a full garment. ‘As an engineer my goal is to find the combination of materials that will allow the textile to store the most energy. As a designer, I’d also like the smart garment to be aesthetically pleasing,’ Jost said. ‘The beauty of making yarns and working in the Haute Tech Lab is I have the unique ability to see our new materials made into real wearable devices.’ Jost estimates that a 1,000 sq. cm. swatch of smart fabric, created using her method for knitting a carbon fiber supercapacitor, could power a cell phone for one hour. Read more